Food is so dang delicious. Sometimes, it’s too delicious. Which is why it can be hard to get a grip on some serious portion control. We all have moments of stuffing ourselves past capacity, but what happens when it seems like it’s on the regular? Getting in tune with your hunger and fullness signals is just as important as feeding yourself. Our bodies have signals programmed in so we do not have to do the guess work. Eating out of anxiety, boredom, comfort or a slew of other emotions can distract us from being able to connect to those signals. Getting back in touch with them in a consistent manner will keep you in control, at peace and never uncomfortably full.
Growing up, I was so out of touch with my hunger and fullness signals. I think it played a huge contributing factor in why I was overweight as a kid. Not understanding when we have eaten too much or recognizing when it is too late is devastating to our bodies. What starts off as something as innocent as just wanting a few more bites fiercely turns into pain, bloat, gas, sleeplessness and excess weight piling on. You are only “one more bite” away from complete detachment and disregard for your body. Still, the desire to keep eating propels you along. It is a vicious cycle.
As a diet culture, we are so programmed to either be in restriction mode or pig out mode. It is no wonder we are so confused around our bodies organic signals for eating. In order to begin getting back in tune with ourselves we need to be able to focus on what is right in front of us instead of in the back of our minds. One of my client’s told me the other day that she was sitting at her table in a quiet space with no distractions around, just as I had instructed her to do when she eats. At first she was focused on her food; the flavors, the smells, the taste of it. Then her mind began to wander to work-related things and home life. The next thing she knew her plate was half empty. She had eaten almost al the food and not even realized it! We have all been in this situation before. What was beautiful about how my client handled this was that she simply returned her focus to her plate and resumed eating. She checked in with herself to see if she was even still hungry. She continued eating slowly and with focus. Before we began working together, my client did not know how to focus on her plate. Most of her meals were rushed and filled with thoughts that had nothing to do with her eating and everything to do with what was going on in her life. Now, she is able to recognize that and catch herself in those “tuned-out” moments of fork to mouth. She is able to bring herself back to her plate.
Eating is a very spiritual and ritualistic behavior. Yet, we rush right through it almost as though it were a hinderance. We are so busy “doing life” that we rarely allow ourselves to enjoy our food in the moment. We may have those, “Oh, this is good,” moments of recognition as to what is on our plate, but we do not take our thoughts around it much further than that. This is where we end up separating ourselves from our bodies cues. In a way, it is almost like we take advantage of eating. We know if does so many great things for us be we really only want it for one thing, comfort. Getting our energy back on our plate and away from our day works wonders for reuniting with our hunger/fullness signals. When we take the time to fully appreciate our food such as being grateful for the time we had to cook it, loving what we see and smell, chewing slowly and with a purpose we no longer have space to think about the report that is due, the bills we have to pay or the test we have coming up. We are sending a whole new line of signals to our body around what happens when we eat. We are re-charging our system to flow in its natural state, allowing it to send the proper signals at the proper time. The mind and the body need each other to work in harmony and if you are always just in your head, you are keeping yourself out of balance. By focusing on our plate, we can judge better if we are full or still hungry.
Giving yourself a chance to be hungry in a fearless way is another important step towards tuning in. It is not uncommon to be afraid of hunger. I recall those days in my own personal life where I was almost always eating. I wasn’t pigging out, but I was always nibbling on something. A pretzel here, a few berries there, a scoop of peanut butter to top it all off. I rarely went more than a few hours without putting some sort of food in my mouth. I didn’t even really recognize that I was doing it, it had just become so routine! At the time I could’t pinpoint that this habit had started out of my mind’s way of expressing anxiety and needing security. Looking back, that is totally what it was. Food tells us we are safe. It tells us we will be able to survive. It tells us we are being taken care of. Feeling hungry is the opposite of feeling comforted. In order to avoid that, we eat and we eat beyond what we should. When that happens, the hormones that send out those hungry and full signals start to get out of whack. They do not work as well because they adapt to our own eating patterns. This is why when we take a break from constant snacking or over eating at meals we feel super hungry. The body is expecting one type of action and is getting another. By giving yourself the opportunity to experience hunger for more than just a small window of time, you re-set your internal program to deliver the right cues at the right time. When you feel those hunger pains coming on, remind yourself that you are fine. You will not starve. You do not need to eat at that exact moment. Tell yourself that you are giving your body a chance to recover from the program you created for it to the program organically designed to serve you. The food will always be there. There is no shortage of treats. Your metabolism will not slow down nor will you binge because you allowed yourself to feel some hunger. When you do feel the hunger, be present with it. Understand if it is coming from boredom or the fact that you really have not eaten in a long time. Work in partnership with your body. Just as you feed it food, listen to it’s signals to you for when it really needs food.
We don’t always want to be in tune. It means taking charge of our emotions rather then just covering them up and that is hard. If we are pressuring ourselves to become “healthy” or “skinnier” we can subconsciously refuse to hear our fulness cues and rebel by continuing to eat. In the front of our mind is that little voice that says, ” You do not want to eat any more. You do not need this.” In the back of our mind is that other little voice that says, “Just shut up. I can eat however much I want. It is just one meal. What difference does it make?” That is the voice of rebellion speaking. The one that actually brings you shame and guilt for knowing what you are supposed to be doing and not actually doing it. It is the silent whisper of, “Why bother?” You know that physically the food is more than you need but mentally it is serving a great service. It goes beyond just taste. You do not need to know what that deeper service is just yet. What you do need to know is how to put forth an uncomfortable and challenging action, such as stopping when you are full. The step of putting your fork down and mindfully deciding that you are done eating and you will have no more. It is not a punishment. Although, it can be easy to subconsciously believe it is. Somewhere in our minds we tell ourselves that this will be the last meal we ever over eat at. That tomorrow we will be “better.” So we continue to eat. Then tomorrow comes and it is the same scenario all over again. You know this and yet you can not seem to stop. This is when you have to have your actions come before your emotions. You can’t just wait until you feel like stopping. You can’t just give yourself until some epiphany shows up and you feel comfortable pushing away your plate. In other words, you can’t just wait until it finally suits you. You have to step out in discomfort. You do this by setting your fork aside, placing a napkin over your food, bringing your dish right to the sink. Whatever symbol you can come up with to visually signal your mind and your body that you are through eating this meal. If you feel hunger an hour later, you may return to the meal or have something else, but be willing to give your body the chance to discover that on it’s own. More often than not, you will find that you truly are satisfied and need no more food for the time being. That is the part that we sort of don’t like.
There is a part of us that wants to stuff ourselves. eating beyond fullness is a form of binging. The sooner you own up to that, the sooner you can move beyond it. Saying things out loud is so powerful. In your mind, you may know that you do not want to stop eating because it is comforting but when you say it out loud you are giving it a very powerful acknowledgement. It is all about having the conversation with yourself. Talk to yourself like a friend that is sitting right there with you. Ask yourself how the food is, how are you feeling eating it and will you have more. What will happen if you chose not to have more? What will happen if today you eat this meal slowly? By communicating with yourself you are keeping yourself present and mindful. You are showing yourself love and respect because you are engaging with yourself rather than turning away and tuning out. All of this has amazing effects on your mindfulness and your body. You will discover rapidly your signals for hunger and fullness and you will respect them rather than ignore them because you you are in a state of communion rather than distraction.